I’m leaving Peru. The packing is not done yet, and chaos still abounds, but I am here – in the midst of it, trying to ride the waves of emotion as they come. Sadness. Excitement. Regrets. Elation. I don’t really like all this feeling. I much prefer putting all feeling and experiencing off to a more convenient time – maybe a few years from now. This life we chose doesn’t give us that luxury. Next year will have it’s own waves to ride. And the year after that will too.

It’s a circle really – New place excitement, homesickness, culture shock (of the ugly expat kind), acceptance, finally making friends, new assignment decisions, excitement for the new place, packout, sadness and goodbyes. Repeat every 2 or 3 years.

I have no glib “3 rules to make goodbyes easier” for you. When the goodbyes are easy, I think it means we held back. We didn’t bring our best self, let it all out, share our gifts, work like crazy to make a life here. So what I may offer instead are ways to make the goodbyes hard, and the rewards high.

Make friends.
Be vulnerable. Share. It seems that we always get closer to friends right as we are about to leave. I have wondered if it is because we are vulnerable and open only at the end, when we know we are leaving anyway.

Join groups.
I was at a brunch a few weeks ago with some ladies I had not met yet. I was less than a month away from leaving, and here I was, meeting people I wanted to get to know better. I could have met them all earlier if I actually joined the expat group I always intended to join.

Learn the language, learn the customs, go where the locals go.
I have always said that I would not be the expat bubble kinda expat – the one who goes to the expat school, the expat club, speaks only English, lives in the expat neighborhood. And yet, I understand the allure of the expat bubble – I live much of my expat life in that comfort.

Still, the rewards come when I get in that terrible looking taxi, speak my terrible Spanish, and go in search of the best lucuma, the cobblers’ market, the place where locals buy their fish. We could never fool ourselves that we could live like a local, and making local friends are challenging in some places, but the rewards are so high when we try.

Move in. Unpack every last box. Hang the pictures. Walk the neighborhood. Smell the smells, hear the sounds, feel the wave coming. It can be the ride of your life.